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Leo XIII

Leo XIII

Leo XIII (1810-1903), who was pope from 1878 to 1903, is known for his social reforms and his recognition of the rights of the worker. During his reign the Roman Catholic Church achieved an international prestige it had not enjoyed since the Middle Ages.

Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci, who became Pope Leo XIII, was born on March 2, 1810, in Carpineto, Italy. He was educated by the Jesuits at Viterbo and in Rome. After becoming a priest on Dec. 31, 1837, he was named apostolic delegate to Benevento. After a period as delegate to Perugia, he was appointed apostolic nuncio to Brussels in January 1843 and became an archbishop. Already at Perugia he had shown himself to be a social reformer. At Louvain he mediated in the bitter controversy between the Jesuits and the university. Reappointed to Perugia in 1846, he was made cardinal in 1853 by Pius IX. He spent the next 25 years restoring churches, promoting education of the clergy, and advocating social reform.

Political Revival

Leo became pope at a low ebb in the prestige of the papacy. The Pope had been a "prisoner" in the Vatican since 1870. Tension existed between the Vatican and most European governments. There were no strong Catholic political parties in Europe. The democracies and the Vatican traded no friendship. Within the Church there existed a polarization because of the authoritarian rule of Pius IX. Between the Italian state and the Vatican there were the utmost frigidity and ill feeling.

Elected pope at the age of 68, Leo was not expected to hold the post long or to make any great changes. His pontificate, however, lasted 25 years. One of his first undertakings was to offset the secularizing philosophies of governments imbued with anticlerical, antipapal, and anti-Church policies. It was the age of the Kulturkampf in Germany and of governmental anticlericalism in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Leo's methods were in the main conciliatory and quite simple in intent. His strength lay in his obvious and proven enthusiasm for learning, for scientific achievement, and for a relatively open-minded discussion with all comers. As part of his program he set out to strengthen the Catholic political parties in Europe. His policies bore fruits within his lifetime, and their acceptance was aided mightily by the ever-growing threat of socialism and an early form of communism which had started with the Communist Manifesto of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx in 1848. Thus Germany's chancellor Otto von Bismarck came to see the newly revived Catholic Center party as a bulwark against socialism. Extreme anticlerical legislation was repealed by his government by 1887. In 1881 the Prussian government had re-appointed an envoy to the Vatican (the first since 1874). Similarly, in Belgium, Catholics gained political power and helped mitigate anticlericalism and secularizing policies. In France, Leo was less successful. His appeal was laced with too political a motivation, which divided Catholic supporters and created antagonism lasting well beyond Leo's death.

Italian Policy

For Italy, Leo adopted a policy marked by an intransigence which produced more or less the same bitter fruits as in France. Leo hoped Germany would force a solution of the "Roman question" and restore the papacy to a position of temporal power. But the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria, and Italy dashed these aspirations. Leo could expect no help from France, where his policies had, rather, fomented antipapal feeling. When Mariano Rampolla became secretary of state for Italy in 1887, he sought the friendship of the democracies, the United States, and France particularly. Leo was much more in favor of a monarchical paternalism than of a democratic form of government; he feared the latter as an open door to anticlerical and secular policies. In Italy, Leo allowed Catholics to participate in municipal politics, but he maintained the traditional ban on all Catholic participation in national politics almost to the end of his life. In his encyclical letter Immortale Dei (Nov. 1, 1885) Leo denounced democracy as irreconcilable with the authority of the Church, although he did allow that with proper conditions Catholics could work within such a democratic framework. In Libertas praestantissimum (June 20, 1888) he declared personal liberty and freedom to be a legitimate political goal, but he tied the success of such a goal to adherence to Roman Catholicism. Leo sought, in other words, to reconcile the liberalism of his day with traditional Roman Catholic teaching. Although he did not succeed, he laid the foundations for a later development in the mid-20th century. The policies of John XXIII, for instance, reflected Leo's thoughts but took some essential steps forward.

Diplomatic Relations

On the general plane of diplomatic relations, Leo was successful. He established cordial relations with Spain, Austria, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, the United States, and many South American countries. The tension between the Vatican and Russia was relaxed. His centralization policies included a new organization of pilgrimages to Rome, more frequent audiences for the visiting faithful as well as for non-Catholics, an expanding panache of papal ceremonial and glory, and the encouragement of cordial ties of collaboration and mutual respect between Catholic academic institutions and corresponding institutions in Europe and the Americas.

Social Reform

Leo is remembered more for his encyclical letter Rerum novarum (May 15, 1891) than for many other acts. The letter was part of his attempt to halt the drift of working people and industrial labor away from his Church. In part a rather dramatic departure from traditional policies of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church's outlook, the letter vindicated for workers and poor people the rights which never before had received such papal or ecclesiastical sanction.

The minimum standards Leo demanded for workers, such as a means of frugal sustenance and a minimum wage, now seem to be grossly underestimated. But in Leo's day, they represented violent if well-timed departures from the traditional norms. The letter's value lay much more in its accurate prediction of social reforms which, if implemented, might have averted such later developments as the Russian Revolution and the rise of Soviet bolshevism.

In Rerum novarum Leo also defended the rights of the family and the right to private property, themes which later became acute when communism spread throughout Europe and these rights were attacked and encroached upon by a dictatorial statism. His recommendations for effective legislation, his approval of labor unions and cooperative organizations, and his lauding of labor and its fruits as worthwhile and as dignified human elements helped shape the policies of many labor movements throughout the world. Concretely, Rerum novarum strongly influenced the formation of Catholic political parties and labor syndicates outside Italy and Spain, thus combating the spread of Marxism.

Leo also strengthened Rome's ties with Eastern-rite churches and carried the centralization policies of his predecessors to a considerable length. He relaxed the intransigence of his predecessor, Pius IX, by opening the Vatican archives and library to qualified historians of all faiths.

It would be a mistake, however, to assess Leo's pontificate as a radical or even a strong departure from that of his predecessors. He built on the strong centralization of Pius IX, who, although he failed in international politics, left Leo a strongly united Church and a store of spiritual resources. When Leo died on July 20, 1903, he enjoyed a vast personal prestige; his Church was enthusiastic for the papacy; but Leo, like his predecessor, had not been able to adapt Church structure and thought to the new realities of the emergent 20th century.

Further Reading

For studies of Leo see Henry Edward Manning, Leo XIII on the Condition of Labour (1891); Eduardo Soderini, The Pontificate of Leo XIII (1932; trans., 3 vols., 1934-1935); and Henry Somerville, Studies in the Catholic Social Movement (1933). □

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Leo XIII (pope)

Leo XIII, 1810–1903, pope (1878–1903), an Italian (b. Carpineto, E of Rome) named Gioacchino Pecci; successor of Pius IX. Ordained in 1837, he earned an excellent reputation as archbishop of Perugia (1846–77), and was created cardinal in 1853. Leo's election brought a turn in the course of the papacy; he was abreast of the times and tried, especially by preaching to the whole church, in encyclical letters, to form Roman Catholic attitudes appropriate to living in the modern world. His influence was increased by the length of his reign; thus he was able to furnish the college of cardinals with an unusual number of excellent men (including John Henry Newman in 1879 and James Gibbons in 1886). By a combination of vigor and tact he ended the Kulturkampf (1887). He tried repeatedly to bring French Roman Catholics to support the republic. In 1885 his encyclical Immortale Dei charted the course of Catholics as responsible citizens in modern secular, democratic states; he thus refuted both the French royalists' claim that they were especially good Catholics and the contention of French anti-Catholics that the church was committed to political reaction. The letter was a great vindication of Catholic democrats. With the anti-Catholic government of Italy there was no conciliation. Leo's program for society appeared in Rerum novarum (1891), an arraignment of capitalism that also showed the insufficiencies of Marxian socialism; it set up Catholic aims and ideals. (It was supplemented in Quadragesimo Anno [1931] of Pius XI and in Mater et Magistra [1961] of John XXIII.) Leo met the intellectual attack on Christianity by advancing Thomism, with its insistence that there can be no conflict between science and faith; to this end he wrote Aeterni Patris (1879), declaring the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas official and requiring its study; he also founded the institute of Thomistic philosophy at the Univ. of Louvain. He was profoundly interested in the advancement of learning. He opened the Vatican secret archives to all scholars, and he reminded Catholic historians that nothing but the whole truth must be found in their work. He encouraged Bible study and set up (1902) the permanent Biblical Commission. He sponsored a number of faculties and universities, including the Catholic Univ. at Washington, D.C. For sheer productivity Leo surpassed all his predecessors in modern times. He was succeeded by Pius X.

See biography by K. K. Burton (1962); studies by L. P. Wallace (1966) and J. Watzlawik (1966); E. Gilson, ed., The Church Speaks to the Modern World (tr. 1954; con aining nine encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII); E. T. Gargan, ed., Leo XIII and the Modern World (1961).

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Leo XIII

Leo XIII (1810–1903). Pope from 20 Feb. 1878. Born Giocchino Vincenzo Pecci, he was sent to Perugia as archbishop in 1845. He immediately set about improving the education of his clergy, and encouraged the study of Thomas Aquinas in the diocesan seminary (Thomism was later to be strongly advocated in the encyclical, Aeterni Patris). He carried his support of neo-scholasticism into his pontificate, and one of his first acts was to write the encyclical commending the study of Aquinas's philosophy. He was a considerable patron of learning, insisting that the Church had nothing to fear from the truth. He failed to reach an accommodation with the new kingdom of Italy, and his encyclical Rerum Novarum gave support to those wishing to restore the ancien régime, though his endorsement of the workers' movement was of great psychological importance as the first such act by an authority of international standing.

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